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Sep 16, 2021 - 12:05:40 PM
11 posts since 1/10/2017

I have a Gibson Epiphone Masterbuilt 5-string banjo. The serial number starts with X96. I'm assuming, based on that number, it was made in 1996. The neck has MASTERBUILT as an inset on the 22nd fret. Epiphone is a decal script and Gibson is shown vertically on a piece attached with 3 small screws just above the first fret.

Anyone have information about this banjo? Am I correct as to when it was made? Is this an Asian made model? Any information would be appreciated.






 

Edited by - kcottom on 09/16/2021 15:09:01

Sep 16, 2021 - 1:02:48 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

25206 posts since 6/25/2005

Pictures please. 8 or so would be useful. Especially the inside of the shell and the peghead showing all the labels. I don’t know of any U.S.-made Epiphone. Masterbuilts—but it’s Gibson, so who knows?

Sep 16, 2021 - 1:07:09 PM
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banjonz

New Zealand

11247 posts since 6/29/2003

Gibson owned the Epiphone brand. All modern Epi's were made in Asia (Japan). Not sure of they are still being made (China). Your one I assume is a Gibson Masterclone built to at least look like the original. As Bill has said, posting photos will be able to give a more positive ID.

Sep 16, 2021 - 2:07:44 PM
Players Union Member

kcottom

USA

11 posts since 1/10/2017

Adding photos. More on the way.

Sep 16, 2021 - 2:18:59 PM
Players Union Member

kcottom

USA

11 posts since 1/10/2017

Some additional photos

Sep 16, 2021 - 2:47:22 PM

14233 posts since 10/30/2008

Photos are not visible.

Sep 16, 2021 - 3:10:10 PM
Players Union Member

kcottom

USA

11 posts since 1/10/2017

quote:
Originally posted by The Old Timer

Photos are not visible.


Got it working now.






 

Sep 16, 2021 - 3:43 PM

14233 posts since 10/30/2008

A few comments.

The word "Masterbuilt" was an old Epiphone marketing term, used particularly on their orchestra guitars, for their best level instruments.   Gibson used the term at diferent times on Epiphone instruments too.

This type of Asian banjo (whether Japanese, Korean or Chinese) is generally known as a "Masterclone" because it's a rough knock off of the Gibson "Mastertone" banjo made since 1925 in several variations -- the king of bluegrass banjos. It uses the general Gibson Mastertone design both structurally and decoratively.  And of course "Masterbuilt" is a natural parallel to "Mastertone" which was a Gibson marketing term.

For instance the inlay pattern in the peghead and fingerboard is generically known as "Hearts & Flower", used on some real Gibson Mastertone models since 1925.

I might guess that your banjo would sell used for something above $500 if nothing is busted/repaired, and if it has a good hardshell case. It would be regarded as a good "intermediate" player's instrument.

The builder/reseller is trying to provide the market with a "look alike" to the Gibson Mastertone at an Asian import price. Gibson Mastertones have always been expensive banjos.

What you call the little plastic piece with "Gibson" in it, is known as the "truss rod cover". Remove the screws and take off the cover and you can access a nut that tightens/loosens a metal rod that runs the length of the neck to help keep it straight.

There were/are factories in Japan, Korea and China that cranked out "Masterclones" for decades, since the late 1960s and earl 1970s, I suppose. They would make banjos to order if the order was big enough. They'd put ANY company name on them, including Epiphone, which was indeed owned by Gibson. So Gibson/Epiphone was sort of competing with itself to get low-priced instruments into the American market, where there were PLENTY of willing buyers. The Epiphone/Gibson name undoubtedly helped sell these banjos at a slightly higher price than some of the other "foreign" brand names that were also used.

Masterclones varied in quality in things like choice of woods, fit and finish, inlay quality, and ESPECIALLY for the most discerning American buyers, sound and feel. The brand "Gold Star" seemed to be the one that figured out all the angles the best, as of about 1979-1980, producing 4 REALLY GOOD copies of Gibson Mastertones -- better indeed than the Epiphone/Gibson offering! At that time, made in Japan.

As Japanese manufacturing got too expensive to keep the price point really low in the US, the banjo factories migrated to Korea and China. China is the main supplier of the best quality Masterclones today. They are very good indeed.

I can't speak to year of manufacture. Have you looked inside it? They almost always had a sticker somewhere showing country of origin.

Edited by - The Old Timer on 09/16/2021 15:44:53

Sep 16, 2021 - 3:53:29 PM

6766 posts since 12/5/2007

The neck looks like it was made in Korea by the same bunch that made my 2002 Fender FB-58. What makes me think that is the distance between the 22nd fret and the end of the neck. The neck inlays are also very similar to my Fender. It may also have a resonator that is deeper than a standard Gibson Mastertone resonator.

Sep 16, 2021 - 4:33:11 PM

12263 posts since 6/2/2008

I'm not totally certain, but I think the one-piece flange makes this a 21st century Chinese product. I believe the earlier Korean made Epiphones had 2-piece flange.
 

I don't think Gibson ever imported a Japanese-made Masterclone of this quality. In my recollection, the ones made in Japan were made by Kasuga and matched the lower end dot inlay matte metal Aria. There was briefly a higher up model equal to the Aria (and Alvarez, Ventura and other names) bowtie inlay models, but with its own non-Gibson inlay. I've seen two or three of these on eBay or in pictures elsewhere.

Anyway, I believe Gibson didn't start importing these closer Gibson copies until Japanese production had become too expensive so they had to go elsewhere. I think the Korean Epiphones were made by Samick.

Sep 16, 2021 - 5:48:59 PM
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Players Union Member

kcottom

USA

11 posts since 1/10/2017

quote:
Originally posted by The Old Timer

A few comments.

The word "Masterbuilt" was an old Epiphone marketing term, used particularly on their orchestra guitars, for their best level instruments.   Gibson used the term at diferent times on Epiphone instruments too.

This type of Asian banjo (whether Japanese, Korean or Chinese) is generally known as a "Masterclone" because it's a rough knock off of the Gibson "Mastertone" banjo made since 1925 in several variations -- the king of bluegrass banjos. It uses the general Gibson Mastertone design both structurally and decoratively.  And of course "Masterbuilt" is a natural parallel to "Mastertone" which was a Gibson marketing term.

For instance the inlay pattern in the peghead and fingerboard is generically known as "Hearts & Flower", used on some real Gibson Mastertone models since 1925.

I might guess that your banjo would sell used for something above $500 if nothing is busted/repaired, and if it has a good hardshell case. It would be regarded as a good "intermediate" player's instrument.

The builder/reseller is trying to provide the market with a "look alike" to the Gibson Mastertone at an Asian import price. Gibson Mastertones have always been expensive banjos.

What you call the little plastic piece with "Gibson" in it, is known as the "truss rod cover". Remove the screws and take off the cover and you can access a nut that tightens/loosens a metal rod that runs the length of the neck to help keep it straight.

There were/are factories in Japan, Korea and China that cranked out "Masterclones" for decades, since the late 1960s and earl 1970s, I suppose. They would make banjos to order if the order was big enough. They'd put ANY company name on them, including Epiphone, which was indeed owned by Gibson. So Gibson/Epiphone was sort of competing with itself to get low-priced instruments into the American market, where there were PLENTY of willing buyers. The Epiphone/Gibson name undoubtedly helped sell these banjos at a slightly higher price than some of the other "foreign" brand names that were also used.

Masterclones varied in quality in things like choice of woods, fit and finish, inlay quality, and ESPECIALLY for the most discerning American buyers, sound and feel. The brand "Gold Star" seemed to be the one that figured out all the angles the best, as of about 1979-1980, producing 4 REALLY GOOD copies of Gibson Mastertones -- better indeed than the Epiphone/Gibson offering! At that time, made in Japan.

As Japanese manufacturing got too expensive to keep the price point really low in the US, the banjo factories migrated to Korea and China. China is the main supplier of the best quality Masterclones today. They are very good indeed.

I can't speak to year of manufacture. Have you looked inside it? They almost always had a sticker somewhere showing country of origin.


Edited by - kcottom on 09/16/2021 17:52:08

Sep 16, 2021 - 5:52:48 PM
Players Union Member

kcottom

USA

11 posts since 1/10/2017

Thank you so much for taking the time to provide such a detailed response!  I checked the inside. There aren’t any stickers.  

Edited by - kcottom on 09/16/2021 17:55:28

Sep 17, 2021 - 12:55:04 PM

12263 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by kcottom

Thank you so much for taking the time to provide such a detailed response!  I checked the inside. There aren’t any stickers.  


The sticker would have been on the back of the peghead. Imports do have to be labeled as to country of origin. But not permanently. Someone took it off.

Sep 17, 2021 - 1:14:55 PM

12263 posts since 6/2/2008

By the way, your banjo model is MB-250. It changed over the years.

Here's a link to an old sale of the two-piece flange model that actually had "Gibson" together with "Epiphone" as a peghead inlay (or probably "onlay" buried in the finish). It has the "Masterbuilt" block at 22nd fret.

Here's one that appears to be like yours: one-piece flange, only Epiphone on the peghead, Gibson on the truss rod cover, Masterbuilt block.  I'm going to assume it sold for less than the asking price.  I've also seen the block saying "Epiphone."

And here's one identified by the seller as a 2007, which I think is definitely Chinese and near the end of production. Note that the block at 22nd fret says "Masterbilt."  Don't know if that was an engraving error by the Chinese or a deliberate misspelling/respelling for some legal reason.

Sep 19, 2021 - 6:52:10 AM
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Players Union Member

kcottom

USA

11 posts since 1/10/2017

Thanks Old Hickory! I’ve separately confirmed the MB-250 tag on Wikipedia. I agree that the $1000 ask was, shall we say, perhaps aspirational. I bought mine for $400 a year ago. Seems to be within the range that most of these go for. Again, thanks for all the information. This has been very helpful!

Sep 19, 2021 - 10:10:21 AM

1193 posts since 12/2/2013

I bought a mid -80s MB250 about six months ago for $500, and I think it is the best banjo for the money I've ever spent. I'm a geezer returning to an interest I had decades ago and this banjo is awesome: holds the tuning, accurate up the neck, nice workmanship (walnut throughout), to my ear as good as an RB250 for 1/5 the cost. No, it's not for sale. Dave

Edited by - flyingsquirrelinlay on 09/19/2021 10:11:49

Sep 19, 2021 - 11:33:26 AM
Players Union Member

kcottom

USA

11 posts since 1/10/2017

Nice, Dave. I like mine, too. My first banjo was a Deering Goodtime. Great to start on but I like the richer tone of the MB250.

Sep 19, 2021 - 12:23:11 PM

1970 posts since 2/4/2013

I get the impression that if you replaced the truss rod cover on many half decent Kasuga or Samick Masterclone type banjos with one that says Gibson they would both sound much better and the value would go up by about $200.

Sep 20, 2021 - 8:14:55 AM

Tom Napper

Scotland

9 posts since 11/18/2011

"Masterbilt" was the spelling that Epiphone used.

Sep 20, 2021 - 8:43:30 AM

1193 posts since 12/2/2013

Some add'l info on the one I have: Epiphone MOP at the 22nd fret; stylized Epiphone "E" on the truss rod cover; some inaccuracy in placing the connection bits to secure the resonator to the flange; otherwise, lovely work for the money. I'd upload some pix but I don't have a camera.

Sep 20, 2021 - 12:39:32 PM

12263 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by flyingsquirrelinlay

Some add'l info on the one I have: Epiphone MOP at the 22nd fret; stylized Epiphone "E" on the truss rod cover; some inaccuracy in placing the connection bits to secure the resonator to the flange; otherwise, lovely work for the money. 


One of these.

Only thing I don't like about this model is the amount of wood beyond the 22nd fret. Results in pushing the bridge away from the tailpiece and towards the center of the head.

On the other hand, I played a used one of these in a shop probably over 10 years ago and I thought it played and sounded great. They were asking $350. Great deal for someone ready for a step up from a bottlecap.

Sep 21, 2021 - 4:08 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

14581 posts since 8/30/2006

Here's a lower priced model, shows the same mfg. signs.




 

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